David Livingstone

Associated Locations:

  • Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland

Associated Dates:

  • 19 March 1813 – Born

David Livingstone is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the wiki.

“Livingstone was also one of the greatest explorers the world had ever known. He traveled over one-third of the continent of Africa. Due to his explorations that maps of Africa were redrawn. He was the first cartographer to traverse that great continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. He was the first white man to view the magnificent Victoria waterfalls, which he named after his British Queen. The publication of Livingstone’s many writings, described the horrors of slave trade, helped to bring it to an end.”1

“Had I a thousand lives, they would be dedicated to him who loved us and gave himself for us.”

-David Livingstone

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

Scottish Missionary, Physician 1813-1873

David Livingstone

In 1850, David Livingstone wrote his sister from the depths of Africa. “I am a missionary heart and soul. God had an only son, and he was missionary and a physician. A poor imitation of Him I am or rather wish to be. In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die.” David Livingstone’s wish was granted. He lived and died as a missionary in the heart of Africa.

Livingstone’s time in Africa (encompassing most of his adult life) can be divided into two periods: First, his missionary work, and second his exploration and discoveries in Africa. During this time he moved his family to remote villages where no “civilized” family had ever lived. He was often chastised for risking his family in such barbaric circumstances. Livingstone was torn by his desire to have his family with him and the great drive that was in him to reach the innermost parts of Africa. Upon the advice of his father-in-law, he brought his family closer to civilization.

Early Life

Blantyre, Scotland

David Livingstone was born 10 March 1813, in the village of Blantyre Works, in Lanarkshire, Scotland. “His parents were typical examples of all that is best among the humbler families of Scotland.”

Livingstone wrote of his early life:

My own inclination would lead me to say as little as possible about myself. My great grandfather fell at Culloden, my grandfather used to tell us national stories, and my grandmother sang Gaelic songs. To my father and the other children [grandfather’s] dying injunction was, “Now, in my lifetime I have searched most carefully through all the traditions I could find of our family, and I never could discover that there was a dishonest man among out forefathers. If, therefore, any of you or any of your children should take to dishonest ways, it will not be because it runs in your blood, it does not belong to you. I leave this precept with you—-be honest.”

Livingstone recalled listening to this same grandfather who had a “never-ending stock of stories, many of which were wonderfully like those I have since heard while sitting by the African evening fires.” His grandfather “could give the particulars of the lives of his a ancestors for six generations.” Of his own father, Livingstone wrote that “by his kindliness of manner and winning ways he made the heartstrings of his children twine round him as firmly as if he had possessed, and could have bestowed upon them every worldly advantage.” He describes his mother like other poor Scottish women: an “anxious housewife striving to make bother ends meet.”

Because of the family’s limited circumstances, Livingstone left school and went to work at the age of ten. He was a “piecer” in a local cotton mill, working from six in the morning until eight o’clock at night. With part of his first week’s wage he bought a book, ‘’Rudiments of Latin’’, which he propped up on the machine in front of him and read while he worked. He was able to tune out the noise of the factory and concentrate on the words in front of him. This talent of concentration stayed with him throughout his life. He was able to read among children playing or natives dancing. He began to obtain other books, mainly scientific works and travel books.

His father was somewhat disappointed that his son didn’t peruse “dry doctrinal” religious texts, as Livingstone called them. However, his failure to read such text did not affect his deeply religious motives. Having been raised to love truth and light, Livingstone gave his life to Christian ideals. “In the glow of love which Christianity inspires, I soon resolved to devote my life to the alleviation of human misery.” He first planned to be a medical missionary in China, an effort he began while he was still working his the factory. About this time some friends encouraged him to join the London Missionary Society. He was much inclined to do so, for the group were non-sectarian and their sole purpose was to bring the gospel of Christ to the “heathen.” With the society’s help, which was difficult for him to accept, Livingstone pursued his medical degree and finished theological training. He was admitted to pastoral office in 1840. His great desire to work as a medical missionary in China was thwarted when the Opium Wars started.

The London Missionary Society also had a base of operation under Robert Moffat in Africa, and despite Livingstone’s disappointment, the society was able to convince him to go to Africa. China’s closing was providential, for he did more for the continent of Africa than perhaps any other man up to that time.

Going to Africa

After a voyage of three months, Livingstone landed at Capetown, Africa. He proceeded around the bay on the east coast and headed into the interior some seven hundred miles north, where he joined the Reverend Robert Moffat in his work. He Livingstone worked and lived as a bachelor for four years. Much of his time was spent traveling northward looking for a suitable outpost for a mission. He selected a sight two hundred miles north of Moffat’s station. He then married Moffat’s daughter, Mary, and they settle on this new northern station.

While there, Livingstone was attacked by a lion, which crushed his left arm. The injured arm was never set right and, due to another injury, he could not support the barrel of a gun with his left hand. He describes the experience as follows:

Settled among the Mabotsa tribe, I found that they were trouble with attacks from lions, so one day I went with my gun into the bush and shot one, but the wounded best sprang upon me, and felled me to the ground. While perfectly conscious, I lost sense of fear or feeling and narrowly escaped with my life. Besides crunching the bone into splinters, he left eleven teeth wounds on the upper part of my arm.

Lion attack on David Livinstone
I attached myself to the tribe called Bakwains, whose chief, Sechele, a most intelligent man, became my fast friend, and a convert to Christianity. The Bakwains had many excellent qualities which might have been developed by association with European nations. An adverse influence, however is exercised by the Boers, for, while claiming for themselves the title of Christians, they treat these natives as black property, and their system of domestic slavery and robbery is a disgrace to the white man. For my defense of the rights of Sechele and the Bakwains, I was treated as coniving at their resistance, and my house was destroyed, my library, the solace of our solitude, torn to pieces, my stock of medicines smashed, and out furniture and clothing sold at public auction to pay the expenses of the foray.
In traveling we sometimes uffered from a scarcity of meat, and the natives to show their sympathy for the children, often gave them caterpillars to eat; but one of the dishes they most enjoyed was cooked ‘’mathametlo’’, a large frog.

Tales such as this was sent back to England, which made Livingstone an instant hero.

In 1849, Livingstone crossed the Kalahari desert, and the first ever to write a detailed account of the region. During the next few years, he took his wife and three children into an unexplored region ending up near the Zambezi River. However, since the children were growing up, the need for further education caused them to return to Capetown in 1852 and subsequently to England. Livingstone remained behind.

He spent the next four years in exploration, always looking for missionary outposts and carefully logging the latitude and longitude, the astronomical readings, and noting the plants and the animals. He wrote voluminously and accurately on all aspects of his observation.

Even languages made their way into his records, and he struggled to create a written language from a verbal one. He recorded: “When I heard the new language … I felt that if I could be permitted to reduce their language to writing and perhaps translate the Scriptures into it, I might be able to say that I had not lived in vain.” Although he was never able to make such a translation, he lad a foundation for others who did.

Livingstone soon realized that most of the natives’ culture were so far removed from the gospel that there would be few conversions at that time. In his journal he described some barbaric practices: a child who cut the upper before the lower incisors was put to death; hands were cut off for the slightest indiscretion; and slave trading operated within some tribes. Tribes stole children from adjacent tribes and sold them for clothing. Livingstone wrote: “Who will stop the stream of human blood which has flowed for age …. if we with our great instrument, the gospel, do not?”

Livingstone realized that he and others of his time were laying a foundation, pioneering, and opening new ground. He could see that the fundamentals of human kindness and other basic elements of civilized life had to be taught before the principles of Christian living could be adapted. In his private journal Livingstone wrote:

We work towards another state of things. Future missionaries will be rewarded by conversions for every sermon. We are their pioneers and helpers. Let them not forget the watchmen of the night, we who worked when all was gloom and no evidence of success in the way of conversion cheered our path. They will doubtless have more light than we, but we served our master earnestly and proclaimed the same gospel as they will do.

He did all he could to give any lights possible. He was often known to beg the tribes not to fight on the Sabbath, and out of respect for Livingstone they usually agreed.

Some of this time and effort Livingstone spent trying to teach reading. He felt that reading exposed to civilization and Christianity . He also shared gardening techniques and new plant seeds with the natives, which they easily adopted.

Returning to England and then back to Africa

Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa

In 1856, Livingstone, every emaciated and sickly, arrived at a Portuguese settlement. After a sixteen-year absence he returned to England to a hero’s welcome. While in England he wrote ‘’Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa’’. A year later he returned to Africa as Consul for the British government. On this trip he experienced the terrible loss of his wife. His two sons, because of health reasons, were compelled to return to England. Livingstone returned to England in 1864.

However, it was not long before he was prompted to return to a work that was not yet complete. He had two main objectives: to suppress slavery by means of civilizing influences and to ascertain the African watershed. This trek was one of extreme hardship, disease, and desertion. It was seven years before Livingstone was dead. When word of his supposed death reached England, the ‘’New York Herald’’ financed and outfitted H. M. Stanly to go in search of the great explorer.

Stanly eventually came face to face with a very sick Livingstone. After moments of silent staring, Stanly spoke the now famous words, “Livingstone, I presume.” Stanly nursed the ill and aging Livingstone back to health and urged him to return home with him. But Livingstone felt taht his mission was not done. Stanly returned to England and Livingstone continued his explorations. However, his dysentrery returned, and he finally had to consent to be carried on a litter in order to further his explorations.

Livingstone’s Death

David Livingstone

On 30 April 1873, he wound his watch before retiring. Minutes later one of the natives returned to find “the great master,” as they called him, kneeling beside his bed in the act of prayer. But Livingstone was dead. His last effort in a sick and emaciated body was to kneel humbly before entering the presence of his heavenly king. His faithful men preserved his body as best they could. As he had requested, Livingstone’s heart was removed from his body and buried in Africa.

The natives revered him as a superior being, a man who was kind and gentle. The motto of his life was “fear God and work hard.” Livingstone said, “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord…. The poor Bushmen … shall see his glory, and the dwellers in the wilderness shall bow before Him. The obstacles to the coming of the Kingdom are mighty, but come it will.” H. M. Stanly wrote in euology of him: “Britain…. excelled herself … when she produced the strong and perseverent Scotsman, Livingstone.”

Used with permission: Anderson, Vicki Jo. The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Zichron Historical Research Institute. Cottonwood, AZ 86326

Inspired Teachings

On his 59th birthday, one year before his death, David Livingstone made this entry in his journal:

19th March, 1872. Birthday. Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties save the tie that binds me to Thy heart. My Jesus, my King, my life, my all, I again dedicate my whole self to Thee.

– from DAVID LIVINGSTONE (1813-1873)

On December 4, 1857, Livingstone, made a stirring appeal to the students of Cambridge University:

For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. …Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, … and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away …with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences…of this life… All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.

  1. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.
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